Big thanks to the Modern Sales Pros for inspiring this post!

SDR 2.0: The Moneyball Approach to Sales

Sahil Mansuri
Feb 23, 2016 · 5 min read

Once upon a time, it was possible to scale a sales organization by being strictly top-line revenue focused. Many highly successful companies followed the approach of throwing as many bodies as possible onto the sales floor (see: Groupon, Box, Zenefits) and experiencing hyper growth. But with the advent of sales automation tools like Outreach.io, Yesware, PersistIQ, and many many others, it’s become possible for small teams to do what required larger ones in the past.

Now we face a different challenge. Personalization of cold emails has become as simple as {{first_name}} and it’s easy to spam thousands of prospects in a single click of a button. I know — I get spammed every day with “personal” emails that are replete with tokens and poor formatting. They are just as ineffective as if you had never emailed me in the first place, perhaps even less so, now that I have a negative opinion of your company for wasting my time.

Sales automation tools are making it easier to reach more prospects with fewer SDRs. That means that employing a large SDR team is no longer required to scale your sales efforts, but also leads to an interesting dilemma. The ease of reaching more prospects with click of a button hasn’t translated to an increased ease in converting those same prospects into appointments. Today, rather than hiring for headcount volume, companies should instead focus on headcount quality… and that requires an entirely different approach to the SDR recruiting process.

With SDR 2.0, it’s all about quality over quantity

Quality over quantity… then regardless of which tools you empower them to use, they will find success. Too often sales leaders are lazy and only hire for the bodies instead of truly vetting an SDR candidate the same way they would vet an enterprise sales rep. This makes no sense — a great SDR gets you great meetings with great companies. That expensive enterprise sales rep you spent all that time hiring is wasted if you can’t get that person many clutch at-bats.

To complete the baseball analogy, SDRs are your leadoff man. If a team has a weak top of the lineup, but great mashers in the middle of the order, they tend to struggle to score runs on days they don’t hit 4 to 5 home runs. And no team hits 4 to 5 home runs every game, just as no sales team closes tons of massive enterprise deals every month. So you need a consistent, scalable sales process, akin to investing in great top of the lineup SDRs and setting the platform for success. Think “Moneyball” for Sales. Most of us are the Oakland A’s when it comes to budget, so we need to be scrappy.

#1: Hire SDRs for intelligence

Too often I see SDRs who are below average IQ get hired into an organization simply because it’s the most junior sales position on the team. Your typical profile of “used to sell Cutco knives” or “captain of rugby team” gets hired into an organization as an SDR with limited screening taking place, as many sales leads see SDRs as high-volume, low-risk hires that can quickly be weeded out if they struggle.

Here’s the problem: if you are selling a mid-market or enterprise SaaS solution, your buyer is savvy and can sniff bullshit from a mile away. And unfortunate harsh reality is: if the SDR you’ve hired isn’t able to understand the nuances of the industry that you are selling to, able to hold an intellectual dialogue with your buyer, and able to go “off-script” in order to articulate your value proposition within the context of each prospect’s business — they will not be able to truly excel at their jobs. You will have burned hundreds of potential customers with poor messaging and a reputation that your business is immature in its customer-facing efforts.

How do you test for this during an interview? Simple — give the SDR enough time and information so that they can prepare a mock pitch of your services. Have them present to 2 to 3 folks within your organization that closely match your typical buyer. In our case, we often sell to the VP of Sales or Marketing — so we would want our SDRs to pitch to our heads of marketing and sales. Ask them tough questions during the mock pitch (not ones that they can’t answer simply because of lack of industry knowledge, but ones that require critical, on-the-spot thinking) that force the SDR candidate to showcase their ability to take disparate pieces of information that they’ve researched and apply that to handling a customer’s objections. The SDR that can do this — and warm the crowd with his/her personality — is one that is highly likely to succeed.

#2: Hire SDRs for industry passion

If your SDR candidate could easily jump from your company to another that does something totally different, simply because they pay more or their friends work there, then they’re a poor fit. You need SDRs who are missionaries and who will strive to learn about their industry, inside and out. While there are just naturally-curious people (and I’m fine with taking a bet on that), it’s far preferable to hire an SDR who wants to actively work in your industry, whether for you or one of your competitors / partners. At SalesPredict, one of the first questions I ask every candidate is what they think about the future of machine learning and predictive analytics. Anyone who gives me a half-baked, generic response that belies an understanding of my industry gets a very short interview.

How do you test for this during an interview? Grill the candidate on why they want to spend the next 3 to 5 years in your industry. Ask them industry relevant questions throughout the process. If they don’t already have passion for your space, or at least understanding how your company fits into their long-term career plans, they are often going to flame out because they won’t be motivated enough to go out and gain the understanding needed to truly set great appointments with top tier buyers.

#3: Be prepared to promote your SDRs

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “stolen” a great SDR from another company because I offered them the promise of doing more in 6 to 12 months, and had multiple SDRs within the company that had actual gotten promoted quickly and could vouch for me during the interview process that I wasn’t full of shit. They’re willing to take lower salary and “start over” to come work on my team, simply because they believed that if they succeeded here, they would get to tackle a bigger challenge. Here’s the reality folks — being an SDR is not sexy work for someone who fits the first 2 criteria above. Anyone you hire who is intelligent and passionate is going to want more in 6 to 12 months… and that’s great!

How do you create opportunity for upwards trajectory? Be prepared to promote those reps into SDR management or inside sales, and continue to struggle with hiring more to replace them. If you don’t, you are going to lose them to another company that understands that you can only keep a great SDR in the role for 12, maybe 15 months tops, before they start looking around. Be proactive, and get them into more challenging roles before they ask for it, and replace them with fresh talent. You’ll be glad you did.

Sahil Mansuri

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Products don’t sell themselves. People buy from people. CEO @ Bravado.co